On June 18th, Wheelchair Basketball Canada announced that Canadian wheelchair basketball player, David Eng, was declared ineligible by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). Previously, Eng had been deemed eligible to represent Canada in four Paralympics. He had been judged eligible in the USA. And, he had also been judged eligible by the governing body of international wheelchair basketball, the IWBF. But NO, David, you are not eligible, the IPC has declared.
Eng was born with one leg shorter than the other. And you, IPC administrators, you IPC classifiers, have ruled that he can no longer roll his wheelchair onto a Paralympic basketball court. Therefore, players with comparable disabilities will not be eligible. Wheelchair basketball players, one of you could be the next athlete to be stripped of your eligibility by the IPC. The IPC’s evaluation and intrusion into the IWBF’s classification system is continuing.
But here is what is cruelly ironic. The eligibility rules of the International Wheelchair basketball (IWBF) state:
“A wheelchair basketball player is unable to run, pivot or jump at a speed and with the control, safety, stability, and endurance of an able-bodied player. “
Not good enough for the IPC! Imagine yourself, Mr. and Ms. IPC, playing conventional basketball. You have a short leg and, — you are defending an average, or an even less than average conventional, “stand-up” basketball player. Your opponent has possession of the ball. He (or she) fakes in one direction and then moves quickly in the opposite direction. Your opponent escapes. Your defence is compromised. Why? Because you are unable to generate sufficient power from your shortened leg to quickly pivot or move laterally. Finally, you pivot, but the offensive player has passed by you and is moving away towards his basket. You are slow to recover and catch him. Why? Your first step is too weak, again due to the diminishment of power in your short leg. It cannot propel you forward with sufficient speed.
— you, the player with the short leg, are preparing to rebound. Your opponent, of the same size and height, contests the rebound. Who is more likely to secure the ball? You, with your short leg, or your opponent, who, with an unimpaired leg, can generate more speed and power in the vertical direction? The answer is obvious — the able-bodied player with a normal leg.
— you are preparing to shoot, a skill that requires optimal stability. But you naturally lean to one side, the side of your shorter leg. That in turn requires compensation from the other side. You are disadvantaged by your short leg. One shoulder becomes lower than the other. The more stable, able-bodied player clearly has the greater advantage when shooting.
Finally, what do you tell the 14-year-old boy or girl who are discouraged by the fact that they cannot jump, run or pivot as effectively as their able-bodied friends due to the presence of a short leg. That short leg limits their potential. That short leg limits the possibility of joining a community or school team and competing on an equal level with able-bodied children. Securing a place on their nation’s Olympic team becomes no more than a dream. Should they stay at home, find a different form of recreation; or should they be invited to join a wheelchair basketball team where they can compete on an equal level against players who use wheelchairs. That child should not be denied the opportunity to become a Paralympian.
And here lies a second irony, one that can be found on a page of the IPC Classification Code, under Eligible Impairments:
“3.1.4 Leg length difference – Athletes that have a difference in the length of their legs as a result of a disturbance of limb growth, or as a result of trauma.”
Reinstate David Eng, the athlete with a “leg length difference.” Then, adopt the IWBF criterion indicating that eligibility to play wheelchair basketball is contingent upon an inability, I repeat,
“To run, pivot or jump at a speed and with the control, safety, stability, and endurance of an able-bodied player.“
14-year-old boys and girls with impairments comparable to David Eng’s will be very grateful. Rolling onto a basketball court at the Paralympics becomes an achievable goal for hopeful children. IPC officials don’t deny them that possibility.
NOTE: Wheelchair basketball players, write your own letter addressing this prejudicial decision by the IPC, or copy and send this statement to, email@example.com
Author: Armand “Tip” Thiboutot. Former Vice President of the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) and the USA’s National Wheelchair Basketball Federation (NWBA), and wheelchair basketball player due to paraplegia. The latter, as you know, is just one of many qualifying impairments for participation in wheelchair basketball. Thiboutot is also the co-author, with Stan Labanowich, of “Wheelchairs Can Jump, a History of Wheelchair Basketball.”
Please note: Opinions stated in the reader’s letter do not necessarily represent the opinions of Rollt. or its editors.
Photo: Uli Gasper